Eight Facets of Canine Aggression, a guide to assertive behavior management, is in the wrap up stages. White Fang Ventures is going to offer a preview of this detailed work by posting an excerpt a week from each section of the book leading right up to the publishing date. Enjoy!
The five core concepts the self control technique revolves around are: a dog’s freedom to choose, timely consequences, a calm handler, the proper use of distractions and safe confinement for unsupervised canine students. Assuming our domestic dogs (like their wild counterparts) are smarter than turtles, the freedom to choose a course of action allows them to learn through the natural heuristic process of trial and error.
The success or failure of their preferred course is defined by the timely consequence the handler attaches to it. For example, commitment to inappropriate behavior yields a negative consequence such as training collar action and commitment to desirable behavior brings about the positive consequences of physical caress, verbal praise or food reward. A calm handler is of key importance for several reasons. First and foremost, the handler being the captain of the human-animal team sets the example for the team’s reaction to the multifarious aspects of the ambient environment.
Dogs learn from modeling much like humans do, team members often look to the captain for the appropriate “how to”. By promoting calmness, the handler is setting the stage for clear thinking, because a hysterical, panicky or enraged mindset is not conducive to information absorption or retention. Calmness in the thick of activity can also relay to the dog, confidence and control aspects of a leader. Distractions are what this world is made of, so teaching your dog specific responses to stimuli without the presence of realistic distractions is a colossal waste of time and effort. Choosing the correct intensity, frequency and proximity of a given distraction, in conjunction with the suitable moment of entry and exit, can be extremely exacting especially when considering all the possible variations in canine dispositions or temperaments, not to mention the endless variety and combination of distractions themselves.
Lastly and definitely not least, the concept of safe confinement: Since we count on trial and error as our canine’s primary learning system, we better make darn sure that the appropriate consequence is associated with the dog’s chosen course of action. This means during our companion’s training duration he needs to be supervised by a primary handler when free to act upon his environment or fellow inhabitants. If (and this is a big if) for any reason as the designated primary handler, you are unable or unwilling (it is OK to be unwilling) for a period of time to supervise your canine student, tuck him or her away in a proper safe place (a crate, cage, pen, run or fenced yard).
If due diligence is not given to supervision and confinement, your companion may learn that chasing the cat through the house and under the bed while you (the primary handler) were otherwise occupied taking a shower, was just as invigorating as it was three weeks ago before training began. In this case, the lessons learned by the dog would be something like this: The cat is still his to abuse. When the handler is in the shower, the new rules don’t apply and being sneaky and clever work to his advantage so sharpen these skills. These are not exactly the lessons the handler had in mind to convey I’m quite sure, but these were the lessons learned nonetheless. So beware, new canine students are analogous to hungry, morphing, self-serving sponges soaking up all the information they can hold. I admire my German Shepherd’s hunger and adaptability, but I also try not to forget I control in large part what he’s allowed to soak up.
These five core concepts set in motion the development of three pivotal canine responsibilities almost solely capable of controlling unwanted aggression in your dog. Responsibility one is deference to the handler before committing to serious action. Responsibility two is self control of drive and energy. Responsibility three is mindfulness among distractions. Of course, dependable response to formal commands such as: heel, down, stay and come is nothing but a plus. Even though these basic principles of aggression control apply equally well with working dogs (police, security, competition and herding types), this is not a training manual for the promotion and direction of aggressive drive and energy.There are many special considerations that go along with training canines for this purpose, not to mention the exponential increase in handling effort and finesse required to properly handle a true working animal.
Although empirical in nature, this practical guide for handling assertive dogs was not written by a researcher to be part of a scientific study. The data did not come from a laboratory. For the most part, the straight forward information in the following pages is delivered to you in layman’s terms by a professional dog trainer, directly from the working field and home environment, as it should be. I honestly hope the information gleaned from this small work brings you, at least to some degree, a higher quality of life. Remember, aggressive dogs weren’t necessarily born evil; they were just born more challenging.